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Bocas v Panama

by Helen

Have a Great 2009!

Have a Great 2009!

As soon as we landed back in Panama City I really noticed the differences between living in a large city on the Pacific as opposed to a small town on the Caribbean. The air was hotter for a start. It must be all the concrete. Rarely was I too hot in Bocas. Not that I was laying in the sun at midday or anything crazy like that. Actually, sometimes in the evening I could definitely have done with an extra layer. I could also have done with an umbrella! Panama City is now well into the dry season and won’t have much rain now for a few months while Bocas never goes long without a tropical shower.

After walking the three minutes it takes to get there (you can walk everywhere in Bocas Town), we got a 48 seater twin prop plane from Bocas’s tiny airport and 40 minutes later arrived in the capital's domestic airport right next to Albrook Mall. Being veterans we got the bus back home at the cost of a dollar as opposed to the $20 or so a taxi would have charged.

Inevitably we got stuck in crazy traffic along Avenue Balboa (more than 5 cars on the road at any one time is weird in Bocas and most transportation is done by boat or taxi) and were subjected to the fruity aroma of poop coming off the bay by fashionable Punta Pacifica. In Bocas the sea is pristine although the odd drain or dustbin occasionally grabs your attention. We watched the huge ships lining up for their turn to pass through the canal and it reminded me of the Christmas Boat Parade in Bocas.

We were pretty excited really and got a good place to sit at the restaurant and bar 9 Degrees where we ordered a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. Slowly they came into view, covered in lights and shooting off fireworks and shouting out Feliz Navidad to us onlookers on the shore – all four of them. Boats that is, not onlookers. Yes that’s right just 4 boats! I decided then and there to get involved in local affairs so that by next year at least 20 boats turn up suitably adorned. In a place where half the population owns a boat and tourism is important, it was a poor show to say the least. They did their best anyway by coming by twice and we enjoyed it in a underwhelmed sort of way.

This morning, the first of 2009, we awoke to the whistling calls of the large birds of prey that fly around us on the 9th floor as opposed to the singing of the giant sized blackbirds of Bocas. Wonderfully there was hardly any car noise (no honking or car alarms) and not a worker was beating metal on any of the seven building sites that surround our apartment as everyone appears to be home sleeping off last night. In fact it seems no one goes out on New Year's Day and most places are closed. The sky is clear with a few puffy clouds, it’s about 28C (with 84% humidity) and we are assured this is how it will stay until May.

As we had been out every evening for the past two weeks during our stay in Bocas we opted to eat in for New Year’s Eve. After a couple of Mohitos and a shared bottle of Chilean Cabernet we never actually made it to midnight! We vaguely heard the joyfull hooting of horns and exploding of fireworks as they entered our dreams through our bedroom window.

It was nice to eat a big plate of vegetables alongside our roast chicken cooked in beer and lemon grass. Panamanians don’t seem to eat many vegetables, particularly green ones, just large amounts of meat served with coconut rice and beans and perhaps a friend yam or a plantain. The best source of vitamin C here seems to be the fresh pineapple or passion fruit juice in the rum cocktails.

While we were in Bocas all the shops ran out of fresh vegetables and fruit entirely for three days as there was a mudslide over the road from David. This road had already been reduced to one new lane carved out after the road was washed away in the unusually heavy rains of a month ago. Had we been in Panama City of course a quick trip to El Rey’s supermarket at any time of night and day would have filled our super-duper double-doored ice-making, ice-crushing, cold filtered water dispensing, instant freezing, American fridge with all kinds of fruit and veg in a jiffy. I think we just get a fridge that keeps things cool in Bocas!

Anyway with the lack of supplies in town we were forced to eat jumbo prawn Thai curry and rice and slabs of beef and quarters of grilled marinated chicken with more fragrant coconut rice. It was terrible!:) When the supplies finally arrived though we did buy a huge pineapple and ate the whole thing in one go, feeling like scurvy may have been just round the corner.

It made me think about Christopher Columbus and his men who sailed to these beautiful islands all those years ago. They must have been delighted to restock their galleys with tropical fruits and fresh food brought by the friendly Indians after months of salted meat and rotting pickled cabbage.

The island San Cristobal, just 15 minutes from Bocas Town is named after him and he sailed all round these islands. Today the Indians still come by your dock on dug out canoes and offer fish, lobsters, limes and home-made ‘tomales’ wrapped in banana leaves. The only difference now I suppose is they are wearing shorts and a Yankees baseball cap and they have a mobile phone in their back pocket.

Anyway, differences are good, nothing ever stays still and cities are still getting bigger (particularly this one). We, however, have opted for the slower pace of life and more intimate life style of Bocas over the noisy more material world of the capital. A couple of weeks here to sort out a few things and we will be back ‘home’ on the islands of Bocas.

We wish everyone a wonderful year and encourage you all to go for what makes you happy!

January 1 2009

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